Professional and Technical Writing

7.1 Proposals

Category: Memos, Proposals & Reports
Hits: 23635

Learn how to improve your problem-solving and persuasive skills. Employ your writing and reasoning skills to make a difference in the world. View samples and write a proposal to conduct research, develop a Web site, solve a problem, or provide a service. Proposals are persuasive texts that articulate ways to solve a problem, conduct needed research, or provide a service.

Proposals may attempt to persuade readers to act or they may seek funding. Writers of proposals support claims with reasoning, library and Internet research, and original research, including questionnaires, interviews, and ethnographers. Ironically, even a proposal that seeks funding to conduct research needs to be firmly grounded in research. In other words, you often have to conduct research in order to craft a proposal, even if your ultimate goal is to secure funding for additional research.

Why Write Proposals?

In school, your instructors may ask you to write proposals to solve or improve a problem. For example, you could write a proposal to better meet the needs of students so 50% of them don't fail to complete their degrees. Or you could attempt to solve that age-old problem of parking on overcrowded campuses. Instructors across the disciplines may ask you to write research proposals, outlining a topic, describing its significance, and presenting a schedule for more thoroughly researching the topic. In business classes, your teachers may assign business plans or your teachers may seek proposals to improve the curriculum.

Proposals are arguments that seek particular outcomes from the readers of the proposals. Proposals can offer to trade services for money or goods, proposals can seek funding to conduct research, and proposals might present a call for action.

Diverse Rhetorical Situations

In general, proposals address three distinct purposes:

  1. Research Proposals: Students and professionals often write research proposals, describing research they'd like to complete in college classes, professional settings, and laboratories. For example, a student might write a proposal to conduct a full-length research report, essentially outlining the topic, describing the significance of the topic, and explaining when and how the research would be conducted.
  2. Essay Proposals: People write proposals as editorials or essays, hoping to influence people about various topics. The proposals go beyond arguing one side of a topic: They present a call for action. For example, a student might write an editorial in the student newspaper calling for a task force to explore ways to create healthier food choices on campus. An activist might write an article for a magazine, advocating particular health care reforms. A terrorism expert might argue for enacting certain policies in airports.
  3. Consulting Proposals: Did you know that billions of dollars are awarded to successful proposals every year? People write proposals seeking funding for necessary services. For example, an environmental consulting business might sell its services to the EPA, offering to conduct a water contamination report, or an accounting firm might sell its services as an independent auditor.

In the U.S. much of the research conducted by university faculty and scientists is funded by government agencies and private foundations. Professional researchers often refer to the Community of Science, a funding source database, which identifies $33 billion in funding opportunities. Another popular funding source database is IRIS.

As suggested by the table below, proposals are a remarkably diverse genre, coming in all shapes and sizes. Proposals can be page length or book length, covering hundreds of pages. Proposals can be presented in essay form and published in trade magazines. Alternatively, proposals can be submitted in an internal memo format or in an external report format. Some large organizations, such as the National Science Foundation, have online submission procedures.

  • Call for a specific action
  • Conduct research
  • Provide services
  • Corporation
  • Foundation
  • Business
  • Newspaper
  • Professional
  • Academic researcher
  • Activist
  • Persuasive
  • Letters
  • Memos
  • External proposal
  • Editorial
  • Email
  • Web sites

Rhetorical Analysis of Online Readings

Consider the context, audience, purpose, and media invoked by the following readings. Also examine how ideas are developed in these texts. Are assertions grounded in personal experience, interviews with authorities, questionnaires, Internet and library research, or empirical research?

  1. MIT's Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (Sample Student Proposals)
  2. DECA, an association of marketing students, calls for a variety of proposals, which can be entered into a nationwide competition.
  3. Students at Brown University rewrote the Student Code of Conduct because they weren't happy with the university's code.
  4. The Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry publishes Children and TV Violence to warn parents about the effects of violence on TV on their children, as suggested by the research of their members.
  5. The American Psychological Association, the leading professional group of psychologists, has published Childhood Exposure to Media Violence Predicts Young Adult Aggressive Behavior, According to a New 15-Year Study.
  6. The Union of Concerned Scientists publishes Powerful Solutions: 7 Ways to Switch America to Renewable Electricity, suggesting ways Americans can switch to renewable energy sources.
  7. NSF , the National Science Foundation, offers many sample proposals on its Web site, helping to guide future proposal writers.
  8. NEH, National Endowment for the Humanities, publishes successful proposals (in DOC and HTML and PDF formats) on its Web site; see sample proposals.
  9. EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, provides hundreds of proposals on its site; see sample proposals.
  10. Preventing AIDS: An Investment in the Future by Lawrence H. Summers. Representing the United States government as the Secretary of the Treasury, Lawrence H. Summers explains the importance of thinking globally when it comes to infectious

What Are Proposals?

Proposals typically outline a problem, detail solutions to the problem, and define the costs for solving the problem. Proposals provide information about the qualifications of the person or people suggesting the solution. When funds are sought to conduct the promised work, a detailed budget is provided. More formal proposals contain evaluation information--that is, a plan to evaluate the success of the proposal once it's implemented.

Key Features of Proposals

A proposal designed to affect readers' opinions about public policies differs from one seeking funding for research or to conduct research. Accordingly, the following analysis of key features is presented as a series of considerations as opposed to a comprehensive blueprint.


Proposal writers bring focus to their proposals by highlighting the urgency of the problem and by providing the evidence readers need to believe the proposed solution can work.


It's true that some proposals are won on appeals to emotion. But ultimately, an argument needs to be based on reason. You need to conduct research to find the facts, opinions, and research that support your proposal.
Reading sample proposals can help you find and adopt an appropriate voice and persona. By reading samples, you can learn how others have prioritized particular criteria. Below are some additional suggestions for developing your proposal.

Define the Problem(s)

Obvious problems can be defined briefly, whereas more subtle problems may need considerable development. For example, Michael McManus details the problems with divorce for over five pages in Why Is It in the Government's Interests to SaveMarriages? Thus, this part of your proposal may be as short as a sentence or many pages long. Occasionally writers will view the problem as so obvious to their audience that they won't even introduce it; see, for example, What You Can Do About Global Warming by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

When they read the introduction to your proposals, readers are likely to ask these two questions:

Who benefits from the proposal? Will the project have significant impact? Who is submitting the proposal? What is their interest in solving the problem? Is this person or organization qualified to solve the problem?

In order to answer these questions, provide specifics including statistics, quotes from authorities, results from past research, interviews, and questionnaires. Notice how the following excerpt stuns readers in its introduction with gruesome statistics. These statistics provide the background information that readers may need to understand the proposal:

Three hundred million people live on less than US$l per day. Life expectancy is 48 years and falling. More than one-third of all children are malnourished; more than 40 per cent have no access to education. Twenty-eight million people live with HIV/AIDS, and for over 100 million people, war is a part of daily life. And yet, in spite of these grim statistics, there are still grounds for optimism. The spread of democracy and the growing strength of African civil society, combined with the efforts by some African leaders to chart a new course, offer a real chance to tackle the root causes of poverty and conflict.

Define Method(s)

How will you gather information (secondary research or primary research)? In the humanities, writers do not explicitly mention their methods, whereas in the sciences and social sciences writers often explicitly mention their methods.

  1. If you are proposing to conduct research, your readers will want information regarding how you propose to conduct the research. Will your research involve Internet and library research? Will you interview authorities?
  2. If your proposal calls for laboratory research, your readers will want to see that you have access to the laboratory and tools needed to carry out the research.
  3. If you are proposing a service, readers will want to ensure you can actually provide the service.

Sustainable Energy Projects - Proposal Development

Present Your Solution(s)

Successful proposals are not vague about proposed solutions. Instead, they tend to outline step-by-step activities and objectives, perhaps even associating particular activities and objectives with dollar figures--if money is sought to conduct the proposal.
Critical readers are likely to view proposals skeptically, preferring inaction (which doesn't cost anything) to action (which may involve risk). As they review the solutions you propose, they may ask the following three questions:

  1. Is the solution feasible?
  2. How much time will it take to complete the proposal?
  3. Will other factors resolve the problem over time? In other words, is the problem urgent?

Appeal to Character/Persona

People often imply or explicitly make "appeals to character." In other words, they attempt to suggest they have credibility, that they are good people with the best interests of their readers in mind.

The persona you project as a writer plays a fundamental role in the overall success of your proposal. Your opening sentences generally establish the tone of your text and present to the reader a sense of your persona, both of which play a tremendous role in the overall persuasiveness of your argument. By evaluating how you define the problem, consider counterarguments, or marshal support for your claims, your readers will make inferences about your character.

When reviewing proposals, reviewers are particularly concerned about the credibility of the author. When an author is advocating a course of action, critical readers wonder about how the author(s) benefit from the proposal--or why they are presenting the proposal. Notice, for example, when the Brown American Civil Liberties Union rewrote the Code of Student Conduct, they were quick to agree with doubting readers that they also dislike "hate speech," yet they thought stifling free speech on campus wasn't the best way to counteract hate speech:

We at the Brown American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are proposing the following changes to the Code of Student Conduct in an effort to ensure a consistent, unambiguous, and Constitutionally acceptable disciplinary code that does not consider protected speech a violation or an aggravating factor under any circumstances. We fully support the University's efforts to promote tolerance, understanding, and to prevent discrimination and prejudice. However, we strongly disagree with the assertion that the current Code prohibits only "behavior" and not Constitutionally protected speech. In addition, we believe that although hate speech may be offensive, it should not be censored. The solution to hate speech is more speech, not less. Brown must insure that all opinions, no matter how unpopular, can be freely stated and challenged within a free and open University. The current "behavior" guidelines, no matter how well intentioned, can potentially still be used to punish unpopular, yet Constitutionally protected speech. The potential for the current code to be wrongly interpreted by the University Disciplinary Council (UDC) is great, and has been used in the past to justify harsher penalties for speech-related violations than for actual physical confrontations. We seek to rectify this situation, and we feel our proposals should satisfy both the desire to protect the Brown community and to protect the rights of community members. We urge the timely and respectful consideration of our reform proposals listed below. [Brown University: Revising the Code of Student Conduct]

In less formal circumstances, writers will speak personally about the importance of the proposal. Consider, for example, this excerpt from one of the students' proposals featured at MIT's site on Undergraduate Research Proposals:

I am very enthusiastic to continue working with the multidisciplinary team of researchers involved with this project. As a student, I am excited to be able to supplement my education with out-of-class research. While learning about the organizations that are perceived to be on the "cutting edge," those that have incorporated the best technologies and most innovative organizational approaches into their management structures, I will gain a better understanding of the overall business environments of both our society and of our world. Because the scope of this initiative is greater than what current consulting firms have to offer, this project is particularly attractive. Having an interest in the field of professional consulting, work on this project would allow me to explore in greater depth the subject material that a future career in consulting would involve. In addition, I will have the honor of working with a distinguished group of faculty and staff members that are under the direction of [faculty supervisor's name].

Because I am a student majoring in economics, minoring in psychology, and I possess a strong interest in management science, this multidisciplinary research initiative, which draws upon all three of these fields, really feels like a "nice fit" in terms of what it has to offer and by what I can give back. [Sample UROP Proposals]

In circumstances when a service is being proposed or when a research project is being proposed, they want to ensure the author has the resources, skills, and experience necessary to successfully provide the service.

Appeal to Emotion

Proposals are more firmly grounded in appeals to logic and character than appeals to emotion. Often, appeals to emotion would seem unethical or unprofessional. Critical readers tend to emphasize facts and qualifications when assessing proposals. Notice, for example, that:

The AMA doesn't put a face on all of the deaths caused by insufficient organs. [AMA House Supports Studies on Organ Donation Incentives]

The Union of Concerned Scientists doesn't emotionally describe the effects of global warming. [The Union of Concerned Scientists]

However, because of the power of emotional appeals, you may want to slip them into the introduction and conclusion of your proposal. Just be discreet and careful. Most modern, well-educated readers are quick to see through such manipulative attempts and they prefer the bulk of a proposal to be grounded in research and logic.
Additional emotional appeals include:

  • Appeals to authority. (According to the EPA, global warming will raise sea levels.)
  • Appeals to pity. (I should be allowed to take the test again because I had the flu the first time I took it.)
  • Personal attacks on the opposition, which rhetoricians call ad hominem attacks. (I wouldn't vote for that man because he's a womanizer.)

Appeal to Logic

Successful proposals are firmly grounded in logic. You need to provide evidence if you hope to sway educated readers. Your description of the problem must be firmly grounded in research. You can add depth and persuasiveness to your proposal by citing authorities, interviewing experts, and researching past attempts to solve the problem. Trained as critical readers, your teachers and college-educated peers expect you to provide evidence--that is, logical reasoning, personal observations, expert testimony, facts, and statistics.

Consider Counterarguments

Typically, proposal writers are under severe word-length restrictions. In professional contexts, they may be competing with hundreds, perhaps thousands of writers who each have five pages to sell their solution. Accordingly, each word is precious so proposal writers do not want to give significant air time to articulating counterarguments or counter solutions.

Even so, at some point in your proposal, you may need to present counterarguments or consider the wisdom of alternative solutions. Essentially, whenever you think your readers may think your alternative solutions are more feasible, you need to account for their concerns. Elaborating on counterarguments is particularly useful when you have an unusual claim or a skeptical audience.

Consider, for example, Jonathan Trager's "Libertarian Solutions: How Small-government Solutions Can Successfully Stop the Terrorist Threat." Addressing the best ways to protect our airports in light of 9/11, Trager spends the bulk of his proposal critiquing other people's solutions. In particular he critiques these three recommendations:

  1. Have government bureaucrats man x-ray machines in airports.
  2. Regulate immigration more effectively.
  3. Grant more power to law enforcement.

Using an inductive organization, it really isn't until the middle of his proposal that he cites his four solutions:

  1. Stop disarming pilots.
  2. Dismantle the drug war.
  3. Return to a non-interventionist foreign policy.

Prohibit the American government from giving weapons--or money to buy weapons--to foreign nations.

Use Visuals

Readers love visual representations of proposals because they enable readers to see the proposal, engaging readers at a visual level. Consider the effects of the following creative uses of visuals: To augment their proposal on ways to alleviate parking problems at Harvard (see Students Tackle Parking Problems), the students provided video clips, illustrating how robotic garages can best solve Harvard's parking problems.

Chunk Your Contents

Consider "chunking" your proposal. For example, some proposals call for a 50-word abstract and a 500-word executive summary. Many of the proposals linked in this section provide brief and extended examples


Most proposals to conduct research or provide a service are organized as classical arguments: The author briefly presents the problem and then proposes the solutions. Occasionally, writers will employ a more inductive organization, particularly when the proposed solution may seem controversial.


You can make your proposal more persuasive by using unambiguous, concrete language, appealing to the reader's senses and relating the subject or concept to information that the reader already understands, moving from given to new information.information.

7.2 Business Proposal

Category: Memos, Proposals & Reports
Hits: 13001

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the basic elements of a business proposal.
  2. Discuss the main goals of a business proposal.
  3. Identify effective strategies to use in a business proposal.

An effective business proposal informs and persuades efficiently. It features many of the common elements of a report, but its emphasis on persuasion guides the overall presentation.

Let’s say you work in a health care setting. What types of products or services might be put out to bid? If your organization is going to expand and needs to construct a new wing, it will probably be put out to bid. Everything from office furniture to bedpans could potentially be put out to bid, specifying a quantity, quality, and time of delivery required. Janitorial services may also be bid on each year, as well as food services, and even maintenance. Using the power of bidding to lower contract costs for goods and services is common practice.

In order to be successful in business and industry, you should be familiar with the business proposal. Much like a report, with several common elements and persuasive speech, a business proposal makes the case for your product or service. Business proposals are documents designed to make a persuasive appeal to the audience to achieve a defined outcome, often proposing a solution to a problem.

Common Proposal Elements


Effective business proposals are built around a great idea or solution. While you may be able to present your normal product, service, or solution in an interesting way, you want your document and its solution to stand out against the background of competing proposals. What makes your idea different or unique? How can you better meet the needs of the company that other vendors? What makes you so special? If the purchase decision is made solely on price, it may leave you little room to underscore the value of service, but the sale follow-through has value. For example, don’t consider just the cost of the unit but also its maintenance. How can maintenance be a part of your solution, distinct from the rest? In addition, your proposal may focus on a common product where you can anticipate several vendors at similar prices. How can you differentiate yourself from the rest by underscoring long-term relationships, demonstrated ability to deliver, or the ability to anticipate the company’s needs? Business proposals need to have an attractive idea or solution in order to be effective.

Traditional Categories

You can be creative in many aspects of the business proposal, but follow the traditional categories. Businesses expect to see information in a specific order, much like a résumé or even a letter. Each aspect of your proposal has its place and it is to your advantage to respect that tradition and use the categories effectively to highlight your product or service. Every category is an opportunity to sell, and should reinforce your credibility, your passion, and the reason why your solution is simply the best.

Table 9.2 Business Proposal Format

Cover PageTitle page with name, title, date, and specific reference to request for proposal if applicable.
Executive SummaryLike an abstract in a report, this is a one- or two-paragraph summary of the product or service and how it meets the requirements and exceeds expectations.
BackgroundDiscuss the history of your product, service, and/or company and consider focusing on the relationship between you and the potential buyer and/or similar companies.
ProposalThe idea. Who, what, where, when, why, and how. Make it clear and concise. Don’t waste words, and don’t exaggerate. Use clear, well-supported reasoning to demonstrate your product or service.
Market AnalysisWhat currently exists in the marketplace, including competing products or services, and how does your solution compare?
BenefitsHow will the potential buyer benefit from the product or service? Be clear, concise, specific, and provide a comprehensive list of immediate, short, and long-term benefits to the company.
TimelineA clear presentation, often with visual aids, of the process, from start to finish, with specific, dated benchmarks noted.
Marketing PlanDelivery is often the greatest challenge for Web-based services—how will people learn about you? If you are bidding on a gross lot of food service supplies, this may not apply to you, but if an audience is required for success, you will need a marketing plan.
FinanceWhat are the initial costs, when can revenue be anticipated, when will there be a return on investment (if applicable)? Again, the proposal may involve a one-time fixed cost, but if the product or service is to be delivered more than once, and extended financial plan noting costs across time is required.
ConclusionLike a speech or essay, restate your main points clearly. Tie them together with a common them and make your proposal memorable.

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

Ethos refers to credibility, pathos to passion and enthusiasm, and logos to logic or reason. All three elements are integral parts of your business proposal that require your attention. Who are you and why should we do business with you? Your credibility may be unknown to the potential client and it is your job to reference previous clients, demonstrate order fulfillment, and clearly show that your product or service is offered by a credible organization. By association, if your organization is credible the product or service is often thought to be more credible.

In the same way, if you are not enthusiastic about the product or service, why should the potential client get excited? How does your solution stand out in the marketplace? Why should they consider you? Why should they continue reading? Passion and enthusiasm are not only communicated through “!” exclamation points. Your thorough understanding, and your demonstration of that understanding, communicates dedication and interest.

Each assertion requires substantiation, each point clear support. It is not enough to make baseless claims about your product or service—you have to show why the claims you make are true, relevant, and support your central assertion that your product or service is right for this client. Make sure you cite sources and indicate “according to” when you support your points. Be detailed and specific.


A professional document is a base requirement. If it is less than professional, you can count on its prompt dismissal. There should be no errors in spelling or grammar, and all information should be concise, accurate, and clearly referenced when appropriate. Information that pertains to credibility should be easy to find and clearly relevant, including contact information. If the document exists in a hard copy form, it should be printed on a letterhead. If the document is submitted in an electronic form, it should be in a file format that presents your document as you intended. Word processing files may have their formatting changed or adjusted based on factors you cannot control—like screen size—and information can shift out of place, making it difficult to understand. In this case, a portable document format (PDF)—a format for electronic documents—may be used to preserve content location and avoid any inadvertent format changes when it is displayed.

Effective, persuasive proposals are often brief, even limited to one page. “The one-page proposal has been one of the keys to my business success, and it can be invaluable to you too. Few decision-makers can ever afford to read more than one page when deciding if they are interested in a deal or not. This is even more true for people of a different culture or language,” said Adnan Khashoggi, a successful multibillionaire. [1] Clear and concise proposals serve the audience well and limit the range of information to prevent confusion.

Two Types of Business Proposals


If you have been asked to submit a proposal it is considered solicited. The solicitation may come in the form of a direct verbal or written request, but normally solicitations are indirect, open-bid to the public, and formally published for everyone to see. A request for proposal (RFP), request for quotation (RFQ), and invitation for bid (IFB) are common ways to solicit business proposals for business, industry, and the government.

RFPs typically specify the product or service, guidelines for submission, and evaluation criteria. RFQs emphasize cost, though service and maintenance may be part of the solicitation. IRBs are often job-specific in that they encompass a project that requires a timeline, labor, and materials. For example, if a local school district announces the construction of a new elementary school, they normally have the architect and engineering plans on file, but need a licensed contractor to build it.


Unsolicited proposals are the “cold calls” of business writing. They require a thorough understanding of the market, product and/or service, and their presentation is typically general rather than customer-specific. They can, however, be tailored to specific businesses with time and effort, and the demonstrated knowledge of specific needs or requirement can transform an otherwise generic, brochure-like proposal into an effective sales message. Getting your tailored message to your target audience, however, is often a significant challenge if it has not been directly or indirectly solicited. Unsolicited proposals are often regarded as marketing materials, intended more to stimulate interest for a follow-up contact than make direct sales. Sue Baugh and Robert Hamper encourage you to resist the temptation to “shoot at every target and hope you hit at least one.” [2] A targeted proposal is your most effective approach, but recognize the importance of gaining company, service, or brand awareness as well as its limitations.

Sample Business Proposal

The Writing Help Tools Center is a commercial enterprise, and offers a clear (and free) example of a business proposal here:

Key Takeaway

Business proposals need to target a specific audience.


  1. Click on this link to see a sample request for proposal from the American Institute of Public Accounts.

  1. Prepare a business proposal in no more than two pages. Follow the guidelines provided in the sample letter for CPA services on the American Institute of Public Accountants Web site. Do not include actual contact information. Just as the example has employees named after colors, your (imaginary) company should have contact information that does not directly link to real businesses or you as an individual. Do not respond to point 12.
  2. Search for an RFP (request for proposal) or similar call to bid, and post it to your class. Compare the results with your classmates, focusing on what is required to apply or bid.
  3. Identify a product or service you would like to produce or offer. List three companies that you would like to sell your product or service to and learn more about them. Post your findings, making the link between your product or service and company needs. 

[1] Riley, P. G. (2002). The one-page proposal: How to get your business pitch onto one persuasive page (p. 2). New York, NY: HarperCollins.

[2] Baugh, L. S., & Hamper, R. J. (1995). Handbook for writing proposals (p. 3). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

7.3 VIDEO: BUSINESS PROPOSALS BUS210: "Business Proposals"

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By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Demonstrate how to form a clear argument with appropriate support to persuade your audience.
  • Recognize and understand inherent weaknesses in fallacies.


According to the famous satirist Jonathan Swift, “Argument is the worst sort of conversation.” You may be inclined to agree. When people argue, they are engaged in conflict and it’s usually not pretty. It sometimes appears that way because people resort to fallacious arguments or false statements, or they simply do not treat each other with respect. They get defensive, try to prove their own points, and fail to listen to each other.

But this should not be what happens in written argument. Instead, when you make an argument in your writing, you will want to present your position with logical points, supporting each point with appropriate sources. You will want to give your audience every reason to perceive you as ethical and trustworthy. Your audience will expect you to treat them with respect, and to present your argument in a way that does not make them defensive. Contribute to your credibility by building sound arguments and using strategic arguments with skill and planning.

In this section we will briefly discuss the classic form of an argument, a more modern interpretation, and finally seven basic arguments you may choose to use. Imagine that these are tools in your toolbox and that you want to know how each is effectively used. Know that the people who try to persuade you—from telemarketers to politicians—usually have these tools at hand.

Let’s start with a classical rhetorical strategy. It asks the rhetorician, speaker, or author to frame arguments in the following steps:

Table 11.7 Classical Rhetorical Strategy

1. ExordiumPrepares the audience to consider your argument
2. NarrationProvides the audience with the necessary background or context for your argument
3. PropositionIntroduces your claim being argued in the document
4. ConfirmationOffers the audience evidence to support your argument
5. RefutationIntroduces to the audience and then discounts or refutes the counterarguments or objections
6. PerorationYour conclusion of your argument

This is a standard pattern in rhetoric and you will probably see it in both speech and English courses. The pattern is useful to guide you in preparing your document and can serve as a valuable checklist to insure you are prepared. While this formal pattern has distinct advantages, you may not see it used exactly as indicated here on a daily basis. What may be more familiar to you is Stephen Toulmin’s rhetorical strategy (1958), which focuses on three main elements (see Table 11.8 “Toulmin’s Three-Part Rhetorical Strategy”).

Table 11.8 Toulmin’s Three-Part Rhetorical Strategy

1. ClaimYour statement of belief or truthIt is important to spay or neuter your pet.
2. DataYour supporting reasons for the claimMillions of unwanted pets are euthanized every year.
3. WarrantYou create the connection between the claim and the supporting reasonsPets that are spayed or neutered do not reproduce, preventing the production of unwanted animals.

Toulmin’s rhetorical strategy is useful in that it makes the claim explicit, clearly illustrates the relationship between the claim and the data, and allows the reader to follow the writer’s reasoning. You may have a good idea or point, but your audience will want to know how you arrived at that claim or viewpoint. The warrant addresses the inherent and often unsaid question, “Why is this data so important to your topic?” In so doing, it helps you to illustrate relationships between information for your audience.


Here is a useful way of organizing and remembering seven key argumentative strategies:

  1. Argument by Generalization
  2. Argument by Analogy
  3. Argument by Sign
  4. Argument by Consequence
  5. Argument by Authority
  6. Argument by Principle
  7. Argument by Testimony

Richard Fulkerson notes that a single strategy is sufficient to make an argument some of the time, but it is often better to combine several strategies to make an effective argument (In Emmel, Resch, & Tenney, 1996). He organized the argumentative strategies in this way to compare the differences, highlight the similarities, and allow for their discussion. This model, often called by its acronym GASCAP, is a useful strategy to summarize six key arguments and is easy to remember. Here we have adapted it, adding one argument that is often used in today’s speeches and presentations, the argument by testimony. Table 11.9 “GASCAP/T Strategies” presents each argument, provides a definition of the strategy and an example, and examines ways to evaluate each approach.

Table 11.9 GASCAP/T Strategies

Argument byClaimExampleEvaluation
GGeneralizationWhatever is true of a good example or sample will be true of everything like it or the population it came from.If you can vote, drive, and die for your country, you should also be allowed to buy alcohol.STAR System: For it to be reliable, we need a (S) sufficient number of (T) typical, (A) accurate, and (R) reliable examples.
AAnalogyTwo situations, things or ideas are alike in observable ways and will tend to be alike in many other waysAlcohol is a drug. So is tobacco. They alter perceptions, have an impact physiological and psychological systems, and are federally regulated substances.Watch for adverbs that end in “ly,” as they qualify, or lessen the relationship between the examples. Words like “probably,” “maybe,” “could, “may,” or “usually” all weaken the relationship.
SSignStatistics, facts, or cases indicate meaning, much like a stop sign means “stop.”Motor vehicle accidents involving alcohol occur at significant rates among adults of all ages in the United States.Evaluate the relationship between the sign and look for correlation, where the presenter says what the facts “mean.” Does the sign say that? Does it say more? What is not said? Is it relevant?
CCauseIf two conditions always appear together, they are causally related.The U.S. insurance industry has been significantly involved in state and national legislation requiring proof of insurance, changes in graduated driver’s licenses, and the national change in the drinking age from age 18 to age 21.Watch out for “after the fact, therefore because of the fact” (post hoc, ergo propter hoc) thinking. There might not be a clear connection, and it might not be the whole picture. Mothers Against Drunk Driving might have also been involved with each example of legislation.
AAuthorityWhat a credible source indicates is probably true.According to the National Transportation Safety Board, older drivers are increasingly involved in motor vehicle accidents.Is the source legitimate and is their information trustworthy? Institutes, boards, and people often have agendas and distinct points of view.
PPrincipleAn accepted or proper truthThe change in the drinking age was never put to a vote. It’s not about alcohol, it’s about our freedom of speech in a democratic society.Is the principle being invoked generally accepted? Is the claim, data or warrant actually related to the principle stated? Are there common exceptions to the principle? What are the practical consequences of following the principle in this case?
TTestimonyPersonal experienceI’ve lost friends from age 18 to 67 to alcohol. It impacts all ages, and its effects are cumulative. Let me tell you about two friends in particular.Is the testimony authentic? Is it relevant? Is it representative of other’s experiences? Use the STAR system to help evaluate the use of testimony.


Now that we’ve clearly outlined several argument strategies, how do you support your position with evidence or warrants? If your premise or the background from which you start is valid, and your claim is clear and clearly related, the audience will naturally turn their attention to “prove it.” This is where the relevance of evidence becomes particularly important. Here are three guidelines to consider in order to insure your evidence passes the “so what?” test of relevance in relation to your claim. Make sure your evidence has the following traits:

  1. Supportive. Examples are clearly representative, statistics are accurate, testimony is authoritative, and information is reliable.
  2. Relevant. Examples clearly relate to the claim or topic, and you are not comparing “apples to oranges.”
  3. Effective. Examples are clearly the best available to support the claim, quality is preferred to quantity, there are only a few well-chosen statistics, facts, or data.


While we’ve highlighted several points to consider when selecting information to support your claim, know that Aristotle strongly preferred an argument based in logic over emotion. Can the same be said for your audience, and to what degree is emotion and your appeal to it in your audience a part of modern life?

Emotions are a psychological and physical reaction, such as fear or anger, to stimuli that we experience as a feeling. Our feelings or emotions directly impact our own point of view and readiness to communicate, but also influence how, why, and when we say things. Emotions influence not only how you say or what you say, but also how you hear or what you hear. At times, emotions can be challenging to control. Emotions will move your audience, and possibly even move you, to change or act in certain ways.

Aristotle thought the best and most preferable way to persuade an audience was through the use of logic, free of emotion. He also recognized that people are often motivated, even manipulated, by the exploitation of their emotions. In a business context, we still engage in this debate, demanding to know the facts separate from personal opinion or agenda, but see the use of emotional appeal to sell products.

Marketing experts are famous for creating a need or associating an emotion with a brand or label in order to sell it. You will speak the language of your audience in your document, and may choose to appeal to emotion, but you need to consider how the strategy works, as it may be considered a tool that has two edges.

If we think of the appeal to emotion as a knife, we can see it has two edges. One edge can cut your audience, and the other can cut you. If you advance an appeal to emotion in your document on spaying and neutering pets, and discuss the millions of unwanted pets that are killed each year, you may elicit an emotional response. If you use this approach repeatedly, your audience may grow weary of this approach, and it will lose its effectiveness. If you change your topic to the use of animals in research, the same strategy may apply, but repeated attempts to elicit an emotional response may backfire (i.e., in essence “cutting” you) and produce a negative response called “emotional resistance.”

Emotional resistance involves getting tired, often to the point of rejection, of hearing messages that attempt to elicit an emotional response. Emotional appeals can wear out the audience’s capacity to receive the message. As Aristotle outlined, ethos (credibility), logos (logic), and pathos (passion, enthusiasm, and emotional response) constitute the building blocks of any document. It’s up to you to create a balanced document, where you may appeal to emotion, but choose to use it judiciously.

On a related point, the use of an emotional appeal may also impair your ability to write persuasively or effectively. For example, if you choose to present an article about suicide to persuade people against committing it and you start showing a photo of your brother or sister that you lost to suicide, your emotional response may cloud your judgment and get in the way of your thinking. Never use a personal story, or even a story of someone you do not know, if the inclusion of that story causes you to lose control. While it’s important to discuss relevant topics, you need to assess your relationship to the message. Your documents should not be an exercise in therapy. Otherwise, you will sacrifice ethos and credibility, even your effectiveness, if you “lose it” because you are really not ready to discuss the issue.



“Fallacy” is another way of saying false logic. Fallacies or rhetorical tricks deceive your audience with their style, drama, or pattern, but add little to your document in terms of substance. They are best avoided because they can actually detract from your effectiveness. There are several techniques or “tricks” that allow the writer to rely on style without offering substantive argument, to obscure the central message, or twist the facts to their own gain. Table 11.10 “Fallacies” examines the eight classical fallacies. Learn to recognize them so they can’t be used against you, and learn to avoid using them with your audience.

Table 11.10 Fallacies

1. Red HerringAny diversion intended to distract attention from the main issue, particularly by relating the issue to a common fear.It’s not just about the death penalty; it’s about the victims and their rights. You wouldn’t want to be a victim, but if you were, you’d want justice.
2. Straw ManA weak argument set up to easily refute and distract attention from stronger arguments.Look at the idea that criminals who commit murder should be released after a few years of rehabilitation. Think of how unsafe our streets would be then!
3. Begging the QuestionClaiming the truth of the very matter in question, as if it were already an obvious conclusion.We know that they will be released and unleashed on society to repeat their crimes again and again.
4. Circular ArgumentThe proposition is used to prove itself. Assumes the very thing it aims to prove. Related to begging the question.Once a killer, always a killer.
5. Ad PopulumAppeals to a common belief of some people, often prejudicial, and states everyone holds this belief. Also called the bandwagon fallacy, as people “jump on the bandwagon” of a perceived popular view.Most people would prefer to get rid of a few “bad apples” and keep our streets safe.
6. Ad Hominem or “Argument against the Man”Argument against the man instead of his message. Stating that someone’s argument is wrong solely because of something about the person rather than about the argument itself.Our representative is a drunk and philanderer. How can we trust him on the issues of safety and family?
7. Non Sequitur or “It Does Not Follow”The conclusion does not follow from the premises. They are not related.Since the liberal 1960s, we’ve seen an increase in convicts who got let off death row.
8. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc or “After This, Therefore because of This”It is also called a coincidental correlation.Violent death rates went down once they started publicizing executions.


In his book Ethics in Human Communication, Richard Johannesen (1996) offers eleven points to consider when communicating. Although they are related to public speaking, they are also useful in business writing. You may note that many of his cautions are clearly related to the fallacies we’ve discussed. His main points reiterate many of the points across this chapter and should be kept in mind as you prepare, and present, your persuasive message.

Do not

  • use false, fabricated, misrepresented, distorted, or irrelevant evidence to support arguments or claims;
  • intentionally use unsupported, misleading, or illogical reasoning;
  • represent yourself as informed or an “expert” on a subject when you are not;
  • use irrelevant appeals to divert attention from the issue at hand;
  • ask your audience to link your idea or proposal to emotion-laden values, motives, or goals to which it is actually not related;
  • deceive your audience by concealing your real purpose, your self-interest, the group you represent, or your position as an advocate of a viewpoint;
  • distort, hide, or misrepresent the number, scope, intensity, or undesirable features of consequences or effects;
  • use emotional appeals that lack a supporting basis of evidence or reasoning;
  • oversimplify complex, gradation-laden situations into simplistic, two-valued, either-or, polar views or choices;
  • pretend certainty where tentativeness and degrees of probability would be more accurate;
  • advocate something that you yourself do not believe in.

Aristotle said the mark of a good person, well spoken, was a clear command of the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion. He discussed the idea of perceiving the various points of view related to a topic and their thoughtful consideration. While it’s important to be able to perceive the complexity of a case, you are not asked to be a lawyer and defend a client.

In your message to persuade, consider honesty and integrity as you assemble your arguments. Your audience will appreciate your thoughtful consideration of more than one view and your understanding of the complexity of the issue, thus building your ethos, or credibility, as you present your document. Be careful not to stretch the facts, or assemble them only to prove your point; instead, prove the argument on its own merits. Deception, coercion, intentional bias, manipulation and bribery should have no place in your message to persuade.


The art of argument in writing involves presenting supportive, relevant, effective evidence for each point and doing it in a respectful and ethical manner.


1. Select a piece of persuasive writing such as a newspaper op-ed essay, a magazine article, or a blog post. Examine the argument, the main points, and how the writer supports them. Which strategies from the foregoing section does the writer use? Does the writer use any fallacies or violate any ethical principles? Discuss your results with your classmates.

2. Find one slogan or logo that you perceive as persuasive and share it with your classmates.

3. Find an example of a piece of writing that appears to want to be persuasive, but doesn’t get the job done. Write a brief review and share it with classmates.

4. In what ways might the choice of how to organize a document involve ethics? Explain your response and discuss it with your class.



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